All Aboard That Musical Tourettes Train…

She said, “Yeah.”
I countered, “Yeah.”
Now both, “Oh, yeah.”
What condition my condition was in…” BIG high five.

The above “yeah-yeah” exchange just took place in the lunch area at my current freelance gig.

I have this thing I call Musical Tourettes. This should not be confused with the neurological disorder Tourette’s Syndrome, which like many a medical disorder can use all the research dollars it can collect (hint, hint, click here).

What I’m talking about is my automatic tendency where one word, one sound, and I’m off singing. Apparently, I’m not alone. Rolling Stone has assigned Jeff Beck the same affliction. (Do I hear a new category for next year’s Grammys? Let the nominations begin…) As a group, it appears we already have our own Facebook page.

Now back to the lunchroom. My co-worker, Joan, and I are of the same demographic, which helps with the admittedly out of date reference. All it took was that first word, “YEAH,” delivered with the proper emphasis for me to hear the conductor’s, “All aboaaaard!”

“Surely, you jest. Just one word?” You betcha. Sometimes, just a sound and I’m off and running. While this may seem like a musical blessing, occasionally it can get in the way. (I hear you chuckling at that Mac Book Pro. That was typed ironically, so the joke’s on you!)

A while back I was an assistant at a theatrical literary agent. It was a cool job. Interesting. Different. My boss was a dream and we (well, she) represented some significant clients (Tony Kusher, anyone?) This was early in my awareness of my affliction and some days at the office, I’m sure I did a passable imitation of Dolby surround sound. It only took three or four musical mutters before I’d hear,

“Crap, Dezur. You’ve got the sickness today.”

Joyce was great to work with. But if you’re not holding a ticket, I’m sure the Musical Tourettes Train is as welcome as the elevated express hurtling past your bedroom at 3 AM. So I’d try to stop. I would. But that was like asking me not to breathe. I’d overhear a word or catch the rhythm of a pencil tapping and my brain would immediately fire:

“Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom, when the jungle shadows fall…”

Or the phone would ring (back when phones actually rang):

“Zing went the strings of my heart.”

I became more aware of my Musical Tourettes out of necessity. I needed to keep a job. Sometimes I’ll find myself humming a tune or a lyric, completely unaware of what had flicked the switch. Part of my control was learning to trace it back. For example, with all the cars and jack hammers in Manhattan, the Soul Survivor’s Expressway to Your Heart is frequently at the top of my playlist. And many an emphatic knock on the door has launched the bass line for that oldie but goody Midnight Confessions by the Grass Roots. Yes, kids, that’s how it’s done.

For non-MTs, I assume being around one of us is akin to hearing the annoying bass line rumble for your neighbor’s stereo (anachronistic, but go with it.) You know, that night when they played the theme song from The Monkees. Very, very loud. Over and over and over again. Nothing like the repetition of a 1-4-5 progression to peel the paint off your auditory nerve.

Don’t get me wrong — I adored The Monkees. They were my first “adult album.” (Careful. Don’t shatter the memory of my fragile, pre-teen dreams.) Most of my friends were hot for Davy Jones. But I had a thing for Peter Tork. He was tall and I had standards.

But back to the task at hand. I’ve often wondered about the science of this phenomenon, my Musical Tourettes. Unlike breathing, which is controlled unconsciously by specialized centers in the brain stem, music memory resides in the medial pre-frontal cortex. The basic activity of this region of the brain is thought to be the orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.  Orchestration. Musical Tourettes. Makes perfect sense to me.

Actually this puts me in mind of the feeling I get while pursuing any creative outlet: acting, singing, writing, setting the table for dinner guests. (My mother, Jan, taught me real good!) During each activity, I alway have this watermark awareness of my brain. A sense I can almost see the words, shapes and ideas pinging wildly across the colorful background of that moment’s pinball game. And the bells, the clanging, the whistles required to underscore this creative arcade? Yep, my Musical Tourettes.

So while I’m grateful for the advent of the iPod and Pandora Radio, I’m gonna’ keep my seat on that Musical Tourettes Train. To Georgia. Leavin’ on that midnight train. Woo-Woo.

See, I really can’t help myself.